Game: This War Of Mine
Developer: 11 bit studios
Release Date: Nov 14th 2014
Platform Reviewed on: PC (copy provided by developer)
This War Of Mine is a unique game by 11 bit studios that puts you in the middle of a bloody war, not as a soldier but as a civilian. It features a bleak art style and a fitting musical score that feeds the expectations of a dark and dreary story about war and its effects on the people. What you don’t expect is a punishingly difficult game that I can only describe as FTL meets Xcom and Don’t Starve. This War Of Mine is grueling at times, and never pulls its punches. Genre-wise I’d say it’s closer to a stealth game than any other genres.
This War Of Mine has a unique premise and the trailer for the game doesn’t exactly sell itself on gameplay. Despite that the gameplay is very solid. Split into two distinct parts, day and night, the gameplay really has to stand on its own merits for each section. The night sections revolve around sending one character out to scavenge for food, trade goods, and salvage various scraps that you can use to build and upgrade your makeshift home. During the day you’ll repair your home, manage resources like food and heating, and trade goods while dealing with the occasional random event.
The game’s setting never feels like an afterthought either, with its unique “pencil” art style that expresses a rather grim atmosphere. You’ll see the worst parts of human nature and even find yourself doing terrible things just to eke out another day of life. All of this is underscored by the games somber and at times depressing soundtrack.
You start off with 3 random civilians who are all good at various things living in a large bombed out apartment building, focusing your first day on finding what’s available in the building and clearing out rubble by hand.
The first night comes quickly and you’ll be tasked to assign a guard and a scavenger, leaving the last civilian to rest. Once you go out to scavenge you enter a stealth gameplay section as you try to navigate a number of unique locations ranging from abandoned buildings to bandit strongholds.
War Never Changes
The unforgiving nature of the game is both a benefit and a detriment. The need to go out at night and find much needed medicine or food is a daunting task. You might be faced to take an even bigger risk and sneak into a warehouse guarded by well-armed bandits just to save a comrade — one who has never gone out to scavenge but was wounded by bandits that tried to break into the shelter to steal carefully hoarded supplies. The sinking feeling of hopelessness is common as you return home with much needed medical supplies only to find that during the night those vital food supplies were raided. This sort of high-risk situation really creates a level of tension in This War Of Mine that I’ve seldom encountered in other games.
Characters will sink into despair as things get worse. That malaise makes them unwilling to move or even eat, instead going on drunken benders at night while you’re away desperately trying to find food. Morale becomes an increasingly important factor that has a tendency to blindside you. If everything is going good you’ll not have to worry about it to much, but if you don’t plan? The first time something goes wrong characters will sink into despair and become utterly unresponsive.
This War Of Mine’s punishing gameplay is its greatest strength and weakness. I’ve put nearly twenty hours into the game and the farthest I’ve gotten is Day Forty Six. Trying to keep a small group of people alive for close to two months in this war zone is a nigh impossible task that really drives home the game’s message.
War is Hell
However, there are a few design choices that can make you pull your hair out in frustration. The game does not have a tutorial and features a control scheme that seems have been designed for a tablet or smartphone rather than PC.
The problems with the control scheme really becomes evident in the stealth sections as you find yourself accidentally running and making a lot of noise while navigating through the map to the next pile of scrap. The lack of tutorial means you’ll be spending your first half-dozen attempts making very simple mistakes. The need for tutorial becomes apparent the first time you find yourself in combat. While combat is a fairly simple affair, you don’t want to try to figure out how to duck behind cover as a bandit draws down on you with an assault rifle.
There is no auto-save on the day-to-night transition. If you have to quit playing after a long day of trading, building, and ensuring everyone is rested up for nightfall, you will undoubtedly find yourself doing all that over again the next time you load the game. It’s a small thing but it can make base management a chore. The game itself seems to suffer from a design philosophy that “harder is better” — at times, this just seems lazy. There is no way, for example, to have everyone in your base eat at once. You have to select each character and get them to eat and if someone else is eating at that moment, the option to have someone else eat after them just vanishes. There is no way to pause the game either and queue up actions on multiple characters. The pause screen is just a pause screen.
There are No Heroes, Only Survivors
It was surprising for a game that I expected to be very atmospheric and story-driven — there isn’t that much of a story and characters don’t interact much outside of pep-talks to try and drag someone out of depression. A biography feature gives you a look into the thoughts of each character, but they are often very non-specific. The unique bonuses for each character are also really vague. “Good at cooking”, for example, means a character also uses less materials when they are making moonshine, something I had no idea about until at least Day Thirty of my best playthrough.
Overall, This War Of Mine is a very solid title by 11 bit studios. They deal with some really difficult themes and manage to do so in a way that feels right. They have delivered a game that doesn’t sacrifice gameplay for the sake of its message. In spite of this, This War Of Mine suffers from just a few “quality of life” problems that ultimately keep it from being a truly stellar title. If you’re a fan of difficult games and are looking for something truly unique This War Of Mine is for you. Just remember: war is hell.
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